Traditional psychotherapy approaches rest on tracing the origins of a person’s distressing feelings and investigating or processing what had happened, encouraging people to express sentiments they had been unable to express ‘back then’ and then analysing and understanding the damage. Looking at a person’s distressing feelings with an understanding of the principle of thought is very different and has implications for resolving one’s problems. The first thing to understand is that thought creates a perceptual reality that creates an illusion of what is really ‘out there’. One of my favourite quotes is by David Bohm, a physicist who said
“Thought creates the world and then says ‘I didn’t do it'”.
It’s a tricky topic, the topic of “it’s just thought”, isn’t it? It’s hard to get one’s head around the fact that the world we experience is rather more a hologram created by our own thinking then a representation of what’s really OUT THERE. Especially when we end up with a badly bruised body or mind by our encounters with “out there”, be it objects or people’s’ actions. That’s however how it is – it’s a biological reality that we can’t grasp what’s out there without processing and interpreting it through our mental filters (history, beliefs, values etc.), through what’s ‘IN HERE’. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong or something bad. It’s part of the human condition. Experiencing your personal hologram as real is doing exactly what Mother Nature designed you to do: thinking that your thoughts are real. Everybody operates like that – nobody gets spared!
And don’t think you can outsmart nature. Knowing that your thoughts are not real doesn’t mean that in the heat of the moment you don’t end up thinking your thoughts are real. I’ve never met anybody who catches him/herself all the time and realises the elusiveness of thought. I believe most of the time it even doesn’t matter. Many of our thoughts are of no consequence (I think). “I don’t like coffee with milk”, “I wish I could go skiing in Switzerland”, “I need a rest” … and thousands of thoughts like that have little impact on my state of mind. I don’t tell myself “it’s just thought, it’s not real”. No, I have my coffee without milk. When I start feeling bad, upset, depressed, or anxious, when my state of mind deteriorates, that’s when I would like to be able to check out my thinking. I know, the more I am conscious of it, the better I am becoming in breaking the habit of taking my thoughts for real.
How does that now relate to resolving the past? When bad things like abuse or neglect happen to a person, of course s/he is affected. The physical bruise from an assault quickly heals – nature and the healing capacity of the body takes care of that. What’s longer lasting is the possible ‘mental injury’ a person receives through its meaning making processes. People don’t know that there is a way to not suffer mentally. Even though everyone has heard the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent!
Yet this wisdom seems to elude mainstream thinking. In general people’s perception is that “you made me feel angry”, “my job is stressing me out”, “I am depressed because I am unemployed”, or “I am suffering from xyz because of my past”. They don’t realise that their feelings are 100% created by their own thinking at this very moment. Because the feelings are created by their own thoughts all interventions like: looking for a better partner, moving to a better country, finding a better job etc. will usually only bring temporary relief. When the habitual thinking kicks in again, people start again on the familiar, distressing Merry-Go-Round. Because wherever people go they take their thinking with them. As a result their life becomes a predictable path of low mood, low self-worth, and self-fulfilling prophecies… until you STOP.
You don’t resolve the past by revisiting it over and over again. All you do is re-breaking a broken leg, preventing the healing process and keeping the pain alive. But that’s not your fault! Most therapists still believe you have to ‘go back and release the suppressed thoughts/feelings’ – an outdated concept that originated in the Freudian time (1856-1939) of steam engines and hydraulics.
Last week I had a conversation with a lady whose sister had been in ‘therapy’ for the last 4 years talking about growing up in a family that demonstrated little or no affection, where the parents were critical, harsh, punitive, and very self-absorbed. Behind the facade of ‘keeping up appearances’ is now hiding a deeply unhappy woman who over-indulges regularly in alcohol.
The woman is not aware of that her unhappiness is caused by her thoughts about the past – without her thinking about it today the feelings would not be present. She has not learnt to let go of what doesn’t serve her today. She doesn’t understand that IT’S OVER NOW! It’s in the past. Actually about 40 years in the past. Today it’s not real anymore. Today it’s just thought. If she would learn how to empty her mind of these thoughts, she would make room for more happy ones. There will be happier ones among the 50 – 100 thousand thoughts humans have daily.
You are not discounting the past by telling yourself: IT’S OVER! If you are hurting today your thoughts are revisiting the past. The hurting feelings signal to you that you need to tell yourself that it’s over. Like burning your hand when you touch a hot plate tells you to take you hand off! NOW! Today you feel the way you feel because your memories – and the associated feelings about it – have been brought to life via you thinking about it. It signals to you that the task ahead is the task of letting it go! Take this opportunity to turn to your inner world with love, respect, and care and marvel at the wisdom of the human mind. If you are looking for guidance and support for letting go of unhelpful, distressing thoughts, contact me and we will make a time to talk.